MICHAEL Duff says his Barnsley players should be proud of themselves after collecting the most points from the first 20 games of a season since 1980/81 but they are now focusing on maintaining their fine form.
The Reds are fourth in League One, four points clear in the play-off places and nine behind the automatic promotion places with two games in hand on the top two. After a 2-0 win at home to second-bottom Burton Albion on Saturday, they have won their last five league games as well as seven out of eight in all competitions.
They have 36 points from 20 games, which is the most at that stage since the 1980/81 season when adjusted to three points for a win. That is despite the sale of several key players in the summer following relegation from the Championship which had a serious financial impact.
Duff, who arrived in June, told the Chronicle: “Someone told me that stat on Saturday morning and I told the players before the game.
“It’s some stat and they should be proud of themselves.
“There have been some good teams here along the way and I don’t think there will have been as big turnover of players as this season.
“When you think about it, with the disruption of what happened this summer, the good players who have been sold and not a lot of money spent bringing new players in because there is a financial hole, it’s some going.
“And the players deserve all the credit.
“They have been receptive to new information, they have stuck together, they have realised that they can get back in the Championship by getting us promoted or playing well and getting sold because we’re a selling club.
“We have had the odd flat spot but, to a man, they have stuck to the task.”
Barnsley now visit another relegation-battler in Accrington Stanley on Monday before hosting Fleetwood Town on Thursday evening in their last game of the year.
Victories in both would equal their longest winning run in the league since 1955 – level with the seven in a row under Valerien Ismael in the Championship last year.
They are on the first five-game winning run in League One since early 2016 under Lee Johnson then Paul Heckingbottom.
Duff told the Chronicle: “Winning five games in a row is hard to do at any level, particularly in this league when you see upsets all the time.
“The players have kept going, not rested on their laurels.
“We went a month without scoring, didn’t blame each other, worked hard and had a positive run which has got us up to fourth.”
The Reds are now hoping to make the season more than just an impressive first 20 matches.
Duff’s assistant coach Martin Paterson said: “We have had ups and downs but we’ve responded from downs really well.
“We are sticking to our process, beliefs, staying humble and working hard.
“Yes, we’re on good form but we are all aware of how tough this league is.
“The test for the players is to keep improving, not just remain at the same level but move forward and become stronger in the second half of the season.
“I believe the squad can do that.
“We want to drive that as staff but the good thing is the players are driving that themselves.”
With a home game against Bolton Wanderers on January 2, the Reds are now due to play three games in a week which could test a squad depleted by illness and injury.
Paterson said: “The reason we work so hard with the squad and everyone is that, if there are injuries and illness, it’s the ‘next one up’ mentality.
“There is a reason that people who aren’t in the team need to train hard.
“If anything, it is a fantastic opportunity for players to come in and seize their chance. You saw it with Matty Wolfe at the weekend.”